Many times over the past year, people have asked me if I am crazy to even think about hosting an exchange student. My usual answer is “no more than normal”. Given my household of 5 people, two working parents (one with their own business), three diagnoses (in our house ADHD doesn’t even ruffle a feather), and an 80 lb. neurotic black lab, we can be considered fairly busy. But hosting an exchange student is one of the best things our family has done.
It focuses us on doing things now, because we only have THIS year with our student. Often in the past, I’ve said “maybe next year we’ll do that”, not this year. Sometimes they are planned events but also we get in spontaneous adventures, like walking on an icy lake, an evening board game, sending the kids to the Lake Harriet Bandshell or trying a new food just because we can. Get a big, Dry Erase calendar, start planning throughout the year and have some fun.
It also expands your family’s world in many ways. I can tell my kids about other perspectives or I can show them. This year has taught them more about the world, the US, culture, stereotypes, different perspectives and love than most things taught in school. Each of them have learned more about themselves, and I think they are stronger because of it.
Some frequent questions I get-
What if there is a problem? You need to go with an established organization that can provide answers to frequent questions and support. Call up your local high school counselor’s office and ask what organizations they recommend in their school. If in doubt, go AFS.org that is the organization that I was an exchange student, host mother and volunteer for over many years. Good organizations will work with you to find a great student that works in your family and will work with you and your student throughout the year. Many problems start as communication and/or cultural and it’s good to recognize when that happens. In my family, I have yelled at each of my exchange kids as well as my own-because “that is what happens in a normal family environment” and guess what? Someone apologized and we went right on with our day. Disclaimer- Teenagers from other countries aren’t perfect any more than American teenagers.
Is it expensive? It doesn’t have to be. Host families only need to provide the student with their own bed and meals (in home & school- if they are going out with friends they can pay for it on their own). Ask the High School if the exchange students have a discount for activity fees. In our family, we did a bit more travelling this year because we love travel and our family was excited to show our student some places, so off we went.
But I’m a single parent/single person/retired/no kids/have toddlers? I’ve seen successful host families in each of these situations (and have been a few of them). All that matters is- Are you interested in that student and their experiences here in the US? If so, host.
I do need to warn you, you will love these kids and you will be heartbroken when they leave. Indeed, that is a sign of a successful hosting experience. On the bright side, you will hopefully be in contact with them for the rest of your lives. Anika, from Germany has come back several times (and will again), Katerina just had a baby in the Czech Republic and my parents will be holding that baby later this month. In June, I will be attending the wedding of Diego, my Ecuadorian son. June is “busy” for our family but I wouldn’t miss that experience for the world.